Thursday, April 29, 2021

How to be an Incompetent Murder Clown or I Want to be Doug Ford When I Grow Up

Ontario leads the country in number of times it has to be bailed out by the Canadian Armed Forces.  Woot!  My Canadian journalist friends (Kate Heartfeld is the originator) have taken to calling Doug Ford and his team incompetent murderclowns, and it is very apt.  They have gotten people killed due to their incompetence and their ideology.  We thought Ford handled the first stages of the pandemic well, closing things down last March. But ever since, he and his government have failed, pretty much every step along the way.  It is really impressive.  So, the question is: if one wants to be an incompetent murder clown, what should one do?

  1. Put the "" in "lockdown."  Ontario's lockdowns have never been close to what the Europeans think when one locks down.  There have been plenty of exceptions which have allowed COVID to breed.  What the hell is a PR firm having people come into work
  2. When you do lock down, close parks and other outside activities even though we know that outside is the safest place to be.  
  3. Waste the summer.  Last summer, cases went down, but we knew that a second wave was coming.  It would have been a great time to set up extensive contact/tracing so that outbreaks could be identified and stopped.  It would have been a great time to improve the ventilation in schools across the province, as it was getting pretty clear that this thing travels by air, not by touch.  
  4. Make sure that the rules governing schools would exceed the ability to do tests, so that kids and their families would be out in the cold, trying to get tested early in the day.  
  5. Make sure that you don't use the tests the feds provide.  
  6. Refuse to give paid sick leave to those who work for hourly wages.  When pressed, provide for three days because, you know, the time from detection of the disease to when one is symptom-free and not infectious is ... three days?  This failure was so clearly illustrated by Ford having to quarantine for ten days after being exposed to someone with the disease--he got his paid leave, but those hourly workers?  Nope.  Given the uneven distribution of jobs, this set of policies has exacerbated the inequality in the impact of the pandemic, harming families from marginalized groups.
  7. Do not prepare the Long Term Care Facilities run/regulated by the province, underpay those who work there, so that they work at multiple places and thus providing vectors for COVID.  This doctor was suitably outraged today. And deservedly so since the lessons of last spring, where thousands died in these facilities, were ignored so that we can do it all over again with only the vaccines limiting the damage.
  8. If you have to lockdown near a holiday, make sure you do it after most people have already hung out with each other.  The December 26th lockdown was particularly appalling since it was timed to happen after families had gotten together.  The general pattern of being slow to lock down, quick to open really was great for Ford's friend--Mr. COVID.
  9. Pay a retired general a shit ton of money to "roll out the vax" but not actually produce a clear system of registering for appointments or prioritizing folks like teachers and day care providers.  The way Ottawans got the first rounds of vaccines was by being lucky after trying many outlets.  Other provinces had systems that were easy to sign up, easy to get a specific time, etc.  Montreal had a mass vax facility downtown that took people less than thirty minutes to get shots when they were expanded to those over 40.  
  10. When the variants are starting to hit Ontario, open up the system even though it was not just a predictable disaster but a predicted one.  And no, this is not a deep fake video. 

I am sure I have left out other ways that Doug Ford and his team of irresponsibles have been aiding and abetting COVID-19.  But this list is a good start if you want to become an incompetent murder clown.

What happens when incompetent murderclowns run amok during a pandemic?  You get a murder circus (thanks, Dale).  People have died because the Premier of Ontario does not want the costs to fall on small businesses (which is something he could ameliorate), because folks who are hostile to government are crappy at governing, and because he really is just too stubborn to learn.  This pandemic was going to hit hard, but it did not have to be this way. So many unforced errors. There were opportunities to do better, science that signaled better responses.  Some provinces in Canada handled this well.  Ontario is not one of them.  The competition right now is between Jason Kenney of Alberta and Doug Ford of Ontario to be the most murderous incompetent murderclown.  



Saturday, April 24, 2021

Quarantine, Week 58: Side Effects And Long Term Effects

 My last update focused on getting vaccinated, woot!  After writing that, well, I started to feel chills, so I made heaps of references to Grease and its conclusion.  With the crisis deepening in Ontario, they moved the age down to 40, so we oldsters got in just before the rest of gen x.  And now I know which of my younger friends are just above or just below 40.  I am sorry that there is still a significant wait for many of them.  I expect things to shake out better in May as Canada is roughly a month behind the US, and the US has moved from not having enough shots and distribution to not having enough arms.  

The chills and resulting sleeplessness lasted the weekend, although I managed to finish my US taxes and do some spring cleaning.  Good thing it ended by Monday, as I had the second CDSN COVID Response conference.  Last year, we got questions at the beginning of the Canadian crisis from the Department of National Defence, we brought together the community of defence and security experts, and tried to answer them, crafting a two page briefing note.  This year, we did the same thing but involved additional government agencies--Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.  We have drafted another memo, but I am awaiting some feedback and then translation before distributing/disseminating.  The event went well, although it was smaller than last year.  So, we addressed four questions rather than five.  I will blog about it next week.

The other event of the weekend was a cooking lesson organized by one of my sisters--dim sum.  This was part of Mom-fest as my mother turned 89 recently.  We all (ok, the next gen was a mix) bought ingredients and did some prep work (ok, the next gen was a mix) and then followed the instructions via a zoom with an instructor.  Some dishes worked better than others--it definitely improved my blanching skills.  I tend to avoid frying (I hate the mess), so I got some frying experience.  It was a change of pace from the weekly zoom with my family.  Later in the week, my mother had an unplanned hospital visit, but she is doing better and at home now.  The timing was good, if it ever is, as my sister was still at her place when she needed help.  The border stuff has meant I am not very helpful to my family, and I haven't seen my mother since January of 2020.  But having two fully vaxxed sisters able to help my mother is a huge relief. 

This phase of the pandemic seems to be the most frustrating as we have real policy choices and much knowledge, but these are not being deployed well.  In Canada, the premiers (governors) of right-wing persuasion seem determined to screw this up, closely slowly and badly and not helping those who have to work.  In the US, Biden is sitting on a shit ton of AZ that isn't being used in the US--that along with ventilators should be going to India since their crisis is extreme.  

On the bright side, the semester is nearly over, as I have completed nearly all of my MA grading, having just one of those papers, a boodle of dissertation proposals, and a few co-op reports left to read.  The long Canadian academic summer is just about to start, although it will not be interrupted by travel, alas.  Will I be superproductive?  Probably not, as I keep having a short attention span, responding to my twitter like the dog in Up.  But it will be a change of pace, and that is something I have always appreciated about the academic life--nothing stays the same for very long.  

One of the consequences of the vaccination is that I have started looking forward--I should be fully vaxxed by the time Steve-fest rolls around.  The question will be--how comfortable will Mrs. Spew be with restaurants, theaters, and the usually stuff that comes with Stevefest.  I am determined to have a bbq with friends where I get to show off my new grilling recipes and my baking accomplishments--the timing will depend on when everyone gets their second shots.  And, yes, there will be pics when it happens.  

I hope y'all are starting to figure out the first things you will be doing as we finally can move about the cabin.


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Quarantine, Week 57: One Down, One To Go

 The story du jour for the Canadian Saidemans: we are vaxxed.  This morning, we went to
Walmart and got our shots.  I had been growing very frustrated with the confusion coming out of Ontario (more on that below), so I started playing around with all of the pharmacies' vax sign up pages.  I was surprised when I finally got one that didn't just say that my wife was on the waiting list (I was signing her up since she is over 55) but said that a spot was open Saturday morning.  Then I inserted my info as it turns out that turning 55 in 2021 is good enough.  So, voila! 

Mrs. Spew  makes
a rare appearance
 By choosing the pharmacy route, we chose AstraZeneca.  If we waited for the city distribution and Pfizer, that would have taken much longer since they were still limiting to 60 and up.  Lots of stories about AZ not getting out fast as people "shopped" for better vaccines.  All of the vaccines do a pretty excellent job of preventing death and hospitalization, even if some are better at preventing any infection at all.  I will take a 75% chance of dodging COVID entirely rather than waiting weeks or even months for 95%.  Especially with these scary variants.  Now we have to wait until ... July for dose #2.  Canada's strategy has been to try to maximize first shots and not worry so much about the pharma recommendations about followup shots within a month.  I worry about this since there was no science really of whether a three month delay is problematic or not.  So, yeah, I will shop next month for places that are willing to give second shots. I expect policy to change as more vaccines make it into Canada.

So, personal relief as well as much outrage.  Doug Ford and the Ontario government announced yesterday new restrictions at a time where cases were spiking higher and faster than at any other point in this crisis, with hospitals on the verge of collapse.  Given that we know where much of the transmission is, did the new policies focus on that?  Hell no.  There is no science for what they are doing.  Instead of giving paid sick leave so that hourly workers can stay home rather than infect folks at work who can then infect their families, they have closed the playgrounds despite abundant evidence that such places are quite safe.  He also gave policy authority to stop and frisk ask folks why they are outside.  Rather than spend money and maybe take a hit to the economy (under the dumb belief that the choice is stopping covid or helping the economy rather than stopping covid to help the economy), Ford has chosen a series of measures that are inconvenient but not effective.  Incompetent murder clowns has been the phrase used to describe him and Legault and Kenney...  

I had my last class and now it is grading season.  So far, I am learning much from these papers from my MA Civ-Mil class.  I finished grading the Masters Research Projects, which are one of the ways our students finish their career here at NPSIA (they can take more courses or do a thesis or this paper).  I still have a heap of Phd dissertation proposals as well--I have to assess whether folks are making progress and how close they are to defending their proposals.  

The big IR news is Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan.  I have been meaning to write a post on that, given how much I wrote about the surge in 2009, when I was a younger, more energetic blogger.  My quick take here is: what would one more year do?  

I did ponder some funny business.  The question is whether the shots will produce side effects that will allow me to procrastinate on my taxes...

Are We Having Fun Yet? Academic Silliness

 I saw this tweet and was kind of surprised:

Because I have seen a lot of funny stuff and, I think, said a lot of funny stuff over the years, I was surprised by this post and had too much to say to fit into a tweet.  It is not rare that we academics do things that make us laugh, that our students often say things that make us laugh, that we end up hanging out and silliness ensues.  So, given how depressing things are in the big wave of COVID here, I thought I would listicle the funniest things I have done/heard/seen over the past thirty years of academia-ing.

  1.  The funniest thing that has ever happened to me in this academic business is the hardest to describe.  In my big Intro to IR class at McGill (600 students), I often made references to bags of milk as that is how folks in Ontario and Quebec get their milk, rather than jugs, and that more than anything else was a constant reminder I was in a foreign land.  I forget why kangaroos came up, but a student in the crowd said "kangaroo milk" as after I mentioned the roos.  It was the perfect moment, and so I laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe, and I kept laughing and tears came.  It was so very funny, and it is really hard to describe.  I also really enjoyed wearing costumes on/near Halloween if the studnets gave enough $ to UNICEF.

  2. One of the funniest things (at least to me) that I did in a classroom was during a smallish summer school lecture class back around 1996 or 1997.  This was when cell phones were scarce.  I rented a beeper in 1996 when my wife was pregnant.  Anyway, a student's cell phone went off, and he not only took the call but walked out of the class to carry on the conversation.  I was so put off that I mused aloud to my students that I had no policy on this because up until recently, only drug dealers had cell phones.  And then I told my students that I was not saying that this particular student was a drug dealer.  Or that he wasn't a drug dealer.  When he came back a few minutes later after completing his call, all the students looked at him as if he were a drug dealer.  
  3. A phd student once told me he didn't have to justify the choices in his dissertation proposal to me.  I think this is the hardest I laughed at a student.  
  4.  For my entire year on the Joint Staff, my direct boss, an army colonel, kept saying that by the time I would leave there, I would be straightened up--short hair cut, no beard, pressed clothes, shined shoes.  So, I showed up at his retirement party towards the end of my year with a crew cut, shaved my beard, in a uniform, etc.  And no, there is no pledge pin on my uniform.  And, no, he didn't recognize me at first.

  5. So many from various conferences over the years, but a few stick out.  Several involve finding new places for the floating ISA poker game because we made too much noise.  I think my favorites are when a publisher was next door--she was most gracious later on--and a recent time where we hadn't even made noise yet.  
  6. Speaking of ISA, I tried several times to organize an ultimate game (beach ultimate in Honolulu would have been great last year), and the one time it really worked out was in San Diego.  That was a heap of academic fun:  

  7. Does my bachelor party count?  It was by and for political scientists.  I don't remember much of it, but it was a lot of fun. Its funniest moment happened while I was passed out.  Or so I am told.
  8. Which gets to grad school--I had a lot of fun as I learned how to be an academic (well, they didn't train us in how to profess, just how to think and research).  The funniest non-bachelor party moment?  Perhaps the time the new student introduced his wife to me and my girlfriend (now Mrs. Spew) and asked us if we wanted to swap.  Holy first impression, Batman.  Or it could have been the Halloween parties as the folks dressed up great.  I went as a reporter one year and a pepper another year. 
  9. I have had so much fun interviewing experts, policy-makers, politicians, and military officers.  I remember so many times driving back to Montreal from Ottawa repeating the mantra "I love my job" as I learned so much interesting stuff from the people I interviewed.  The funniest moment, in retrospect, was me falling asleep on the couch of the Turkish general.
  10.  In  2007, the Canadian Armed Foces and NATO brought a bunch of academics to Kabul and Kandahar in an effort to sell the Afghanistan mission to the Canadian public.  That, by itself, is a funny idea.  But perhaps the funniest part was the gun show.  We visited the HQ of the NATO forces based in Kabul--French, Germans, Italians (got love that Italian beret).  As part of the orientation/presentation, they took us outside and showed us their weaponry.  It was funny not only because I look silly in a sniper gilly suit, but because this was a wonderfully amusing act of overcompensation.  At the time, those three countries were among the lamest in Afghanistan, limited by restrictions imposed by their home countries. The Italians and Germans could not engage in offensive operations or leave their relatively safe sectors, and the French were pretending that they didn't do violent counter-insurgency because Chirac was still pissed at Bush.  So, a gunshow was so silly--it didn't persuade any of us how warrior-ish these three contingents were.  But I got photos that make me laugh to this day and were handy when presenting my NATO/Canada in Afghanistan stuff.  

I have had many funny students and colleagues over the years.  I have laughed a lot.  If academics are seen as boring and stuffy, well, some of that is true.  But if we are seen as lacking humor, that is entirely wrong.  I love to laugh and to make others laugh.  And over the past thirty plus years (yikes!), I have laughed a lot.  I mean, how can you not at a student piping up in a massive, dark lecture hall, saying "Kangaroo milk!"

Monday, April 12, 2021

Vaccine Hesitancy as Crisis in Civ-Mil Relations

 Yesterday, I tweeted this

and got some pushback--that not everything implicates or is implicated by civil-military relations.  I was inspired by this amazing article by Risa Brooks, Jim Golby, and Heidi Urben, but they are not to blame.  

What did I mean by this?  To be clear, I am not saying that the refusal for many Marines to vaccinate harms civilian control of the military or undermines norms of civ-mil relations.  What I meant (and it might have been a leap, judge after reading below) was that the crisis in civil-military relations has pernicious consequences.  So, I am going to address my logical leap here and not the first part of my response to Kori Shake as Risa, Jim, and Heidi do a great job of identifying the crisis.

I forget which of these three dynamics I had in mind last night were, but I think all apply here.  They relate to the legacy of Huntington--skepticism of civilians; the apolitical orientation of the senior officers leaves the military unprepared for politicized issues; and, ironically, greater partisanship within the military means political identities have greater influence.  This is all guess work as I have no survey data of which Marines are doing what (yo, Jim, get on that!).  And yes, in all of this, I am very much a Brooksian.  Don't blame her for my interpretation of her work--disciples always lose stuff while translating the doctrine!

First, the military has been deeply breathing and ingesting Huntington's notion of professionalism for decades, and a core part of that is that the military is a profession.  That those in the military not only have expertise on the use of force, but damn near exclusive expertise.  This has bred some contempt over the years for civilian expertise on all things military.  All one has to do is tweet about military stuff online and get pushback from those who question the credentials of the non-military folks who enter these conversations.  This is the weakest, perhaps, of my claims, but civilians telling Marines what to do, even when it comes to things outside of strictly military matters, probably does not go over well.* 

*Caveat: I tend to be biased in my views of Marines for a variety of reasons.  For one, I didn't interact with any in my year in the Joint Staff as my fellowship allowed the Marines not to fill their billet that year in the Balkan moshpit of despair in J-5's Central and Eastern European Division.  For another, I am still annoyed that the Marines focused on Helmand, which was not where population-centric COIN was supposed to focus, and undid efforts to create unity of command by insisting on having their own change of command back to Marines in the US. 

*Update/Caveat 2: It may be that the 40% number is overblown as some Marines may be declining to get the shot via the normal pathway because they received vaccines via

A second dynamic, one that more clearly builds on Brooks's stuff, is that military leaders have long sought to be apolitical (I will get to partisan in a minute).  Which has meant staying silent often (but not always--note statements after Charlottesville and other key crisis points) about stuff going on in the political realm.  As vaccinations have become a political issue in the civilian world, I have not seen (perhaps I have missed it) the senior officers messaging about vaccinations, pushing back against the politicization of vaccines.  Having the senior officers say that vaccinations are the right thing to do, necessary for the national interest, would be political--they would be taking a side in a hot political issue. And they may be avoiding that.  

A third dynamic, which really does speak to the crisis in civil-military relations, and where the distinction between political and partisan lays, is how increased partisanship within the military may be leading to problematic outcomes.  Brooks, Golby, and Urben have written together and separately about the distinction between a politically astute military and a partisan military.  That the latter is a real problem especially in this time where one party is, well, broken.  What I was really thinking about, if I recall correctly, is that we see a significant number of Marines acting on their political identities--that vaccines are almost as identified with Democrats as mask-wearing (I wonder how observation of mask wearing mandates have varied among/within the services--more testable hypotheses!)--and choosing not to vaccinate.  

 Perhaps refusing to vaccinate is not so much about partisanship but other dynamics. I did read a great thread this morning explaining why nurses have not been vaccinating as much as we might expect, but that is not so much about partisanship and more about experiences within the medical community.  I could be reaching a bit too far, but it seemed to me that as I read the news about the Marines and had read the piece by the trio, the pieces fit together for me.  If the military was not so partisan these days, if the senior leadership had been more willing to engage on issues of policy, and if there was more respect for civilian expertise, perhaps the vaccine hesitancy would not be so prevalent.

And for those who wonder why the military does not order the troops to vax, I believe they can when a vaccine has gone through the entire normal approval process.  Right now, the vaccines have been approved via an emergency expedited process.  

Anyhow, I may be wrong about all of this--which is why this is the Semi-Spew, where things are half-baked.  I'd appreciate any clarifications, suggestions, etc. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Quarantine, Week 56: Summer Is Here?

 Well, I made one good prediction last week: the ISA wasn't the same.  On the other hand, quick dissemination of a story of a senior scholar being awful to junior scholar made it feel like a normal ISA, I suppose.  It was also the last week of classes.  Ok, not quite.  I gave one PhD student a chance to present a week later than planned, so my real last day of classes is Tuesday.  The Canadian academic calendar is both shorter and longer than the American--classes end sooner but we are officially on 12 month contracts so meetings don't stop in the summer time.  Indeed, they accumulate. 

On Thursday, in my Civ-Mil class, we had our last batch of presentations.  It was pretty strange because I had to stop class, "run" off to an ISA panel, and then come back.  The students were great, willing to push the class later into the afternoon to accommodate my schedule.  Usually, I cancel or rearrange classes when I am conferencing.  Not this year.  Anyhow, despite all the hiccups, this class actually went very well.  The students remained engaged the entire term, doing all (ok, most) of the readings, getting into the material, learning how to get me onto a tangent so that I gripe about a certain defence journalist, writing papers on all kinds of civ-mil stuff that I never studied, creating some pretty good memes, and pushing me to think about the stuff.  That is what I enjoy most about teaching--getting pushed to think more about stuff, to see things from different angles.  That these students did so in the midst of a pandemic amazed me.  I also learned what a RobinHood is thanks to a student's decoration.  I usually end a semester by taking a class out to the student bar.  That will have to wait, but I can take some solace from the experience this winter--that they had a decent learning experience amid the madness.

Speaking of madness, damn, was this a bad week for Ontario.  Cases are spiking, hospitals are on the edge of collapse, and the premier (governor) says that things are going well.  FFS!  Doug Ford and his team have been referred to as incompetent murderclowns.   Well, this week, one of his officials said essentially: "well, the models predicted this, but we wanted to see the numbers rise in the hospitals to make sure the models were accurate."  As if we didn't know for damn near a year that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator--meaning that they go up after the thing is spreading so one should act sooner rather than wait for the late signal.  Damn!  And, yes, this scene was prophetic:

 This was not just foreseeable but foreseen--that the new variants would cause an acceleration of infections if the province did not act.  And it did not act until it was too late with Doug Ford keeping on acting as if this was a reality tv show "come back tomorrow and we will have an announcement."  Make the announcement now, FFS!!!  Or even better, act a month ago when this was entirely predicted.  

The good news is that the number of vaccinations getting to Canada are increasing faster than expected.  The bad news is that several provinces are fucking up the distribution, including, of course, Ontario.  Turns out that electing people to govern who happen to hate government is bad when you need government.  

How to manage this mess?  Baking, eating, and biking.  The weather has turned to spring early, so I have been biking again.  Still mud season so I have to stick to the streets, but the weather has been delightful.  This week's baking project went better than expected.  I don't know why I tried Nigella Lawson's orange and white chocolate chip muffins as I tend not to eat or bake orange desserts nor do I use white cc's much.  But damn if it was not one of the best things I have made.   Sweet and tasty and moist.  

I still have to complete our taxes so I am off to do that now plus a heap of grading.  Do whatever it takes these days as the stress is not over and many folks are hitting the wall.






Permission Structures Redux: the CAF and Academia

Thanks to a podcast I heard four years ago, the phrase "permission structure" has been on my mind.  It came out of MeToo and the various cases--that in any moment, there is a set of attitudes, norms, and institutions that give permission for certain actors to act in a particular way and deny that permission to others to act in a different way.  In the Hollywood example, for a long time, the "Casting Couch" was normalized--that it was expected and accepted that producers would prey upon actresses (and actors) and that the targets of this behavior had little recourse but to be seen as crazy or "bitchy."  The MeToo movement shifted the permission structures--that the survivors of such abuse could report their experiences and be believed and that there might just be consequences for the predators.  It was both a moment in time where people realized that they could tell what happened to them and a structural shift in the norms as abusive people continue to lose their jobs.  The change in permission structure does not end the predation and other problems, but it raises the costs and probabilities of being awful, and it lowers (but does not eliminate) the costs for the survivors to report on what happened to them.

The Canadian Armed Forces is having a MeToo moment that may shift the permission structure.  A series of women and men have come out and reported that they were assaulted by senior officers.  We knew that the CAF had a sexual misconduct problem--there have been reports and policies and much academic study--but we did not know how far it reached to the top.  One of the consequences of the broader MeToo movement is that we generally believe these women more readily (although I have heard some folks in the military raise doubts).  We have seen a retired Chief of the Defence Staff be investigated, his replacement sidelined, and the Chief of Personnel put on ice.  Week after week Mercedes Stephenson has been interviewing a series of women who suffered awful behavior from their superiors and who did not get any help from their chain of command.  This has shaken the CAF and perhaps the public's confidence in it.  While the survivors now feel a bit more comfortable speaking out, it is not clear yet whether the permission to abuse subordinates has declined.  One would think so after five or six years of Operation Honour and now the Path to Dignity efforts, but, well, not so much.  

This week at the virtual ISA, my profession had a bit of its own shift in permission structures.  A well-known scholar, Mia Bloom, engaged in social media abuse of a younger scholar, one of color, for having the temerity to criticize some of Bloom's work.  I won't get in the details as they are documented quite well here.  In response to her outburst, one person refused to sit on a panel on mentorship(!) that Bloom was on later in the week.  Others came forward on social media to tell their Bloom story.  Bloom has been doing this kind of stuff for years, but was not confronted.  She had, essentially, permission from the profession to be awful, despite earning a reputation for being awful.  Whisper networks only go so far.  

As someone who used to be Mia's friend, I knew about some of this, but didn't say anything.  When this stuff broke out this week, I first referred to it obliquely:

 But after Amar's series of tweets, where he said that junior people and people of color tend to be the ones that talk about this, that senior white folks are absent, I realized I should discuss this more directly.  Hence this post here and a series of tweets.  With the ice breaking on this and with Mia's crappy apology, the permission structure has changed partially.  We don't know if there will be consequences for her, but we do know that people feel freer to talk in public about her behavior.  Because she does not have a large posse, the danger of retaliation is modest, limited mostly to the vagaries of reviewing processes.  I have and will encourage scholars (especially junior) to use the part of the forms for article and grant submissions and tenure letters to say that they don't want Mia Bloom reviewing their stuff. 

However, the big question is whether this changes anything for anyone else.  Mia is not the only person who engages in bad behavior in the discipline.  Will others get outed?  Will other people's targets go public?  Will those with power feel less comfortable engaging in bad behavior?  I am not so sure. 


Thursday, April 8, 2021

ISA 2021: It Just Isn't The Same

Bob is tired of #ISA2021
 The International Studies Association schedules its conferences up to a decade ahead of time.  So, I spent most of the 2010s looking forward to the pair of meetings in Honolulu and Las Vegas.  The former was cancelled just as the pandemic started to hit North America, and the latter became a virtual event that happened this week.  Yes, I missed the opportunities to enjoy such fun albeit very different places.  But mostly I missed the people, old and new, that I would get to chat with, listen to, learn from, and be inspired by.  I do not go to a lot of panels in a normal ISA year, spending most of my team in meetings with individuals and small groups.  The past several years, I made a deliberate effort to go beyond meeting my former students and former colleagues and co-authors to meeting junior scholars and scholars from groups with whom I have had few contacts.  This year, none of that is happening.  

A virtual conference is like a conference in one's hometown but worse.  When you go away to someplace (nice like Honolulu or, um, less nice like most of the ISA's lineup for the next eight years or so, sorry Baltimore and Columbus), your focus is entirely the conference.  When a conference is in your hometown, you have to trek to the convention center but going home each night means often not taking part of the later receptions and hangouts and maybe early stuff, depending on one's commute and homelife.  When it is virtual, mostly the regular schedule does not change much and one squeezes in the panels amid one's schedule.  I had to re-arrange one class to meet before and after today's Junior Scholar Symposium for which I am a discussant.  Ordinarily, I would just re-schedule the class.  This year's ISA is just a handful of panels and nothing more.  There are no one-on-one's with new scholars or with old friends, no meet-ups with teams of co-authors to conspire on grand applications, article revisions, and book plans.  There are no receptions (ok, there are, but who is going?) to hand out Duckies and meet people.  This is the conference without networking. 

There were debates years ago at the Duck of Minerva about networking--how to do it, whether it is necessary.  For many of us, there is no debate--we need each other, we do better with each other, doing this stuff entirely alone gets old.  So, yeah, I hope this is my last virtual conference, but I am guessing I have at least one more--the American Poli Sci Association that is supposed to be in Seattle in September.  I am not sure I will be able to cross the border then.  I know that this is in some ways more equitable--that it does not cost participants as much as flying and hanging out in an expensive city, and it certainly is better for the environment.  But it isn't the same.

I ran an informal survey on FB page asking if people went to many more panels besides those that they were on, did they go to receptions, did they arrange for one-on-ones or small hangouts.  Nope, nope, and nope were the modal answers.  

So, what did happen at this year's ISA?  I can only speak about the stuff in which I was a participant.  My first panel was one that was on Comparative Civil-Military relations.  Michael Robinson (West Point) presented the results of the survey that he, Takako Hikotani (Columbia), and myself were working on for quite some time.  We finally launched it in Japan last month, and got some cool results.  The Japanese do think that the Diet both should and does have the primary role in overseeing the Self-Defence Forces, which is an interesting finding given that my research in Japan indicates that the Diet is one of the lamest legislatures in terms of doing oversight over the armed forces.  It may be that we differ on what oversight means.  It turns out threats don't impact oversight in Japan the way we might have thought.  

Jessica Blankshain and Lindsay Cohn of the Naval War College presented an interesting survey and experiment about American attitudes about the use of coercive power by the military in the US.  It turns out Americans are not fans, but partisanship matters.  David Burbach and Naunihal Singh also of the NWC presented a survey of a number of African countries and attitudes about the militaries and roles they play.  Christina Gregory, a grad student finishing up at UC Riverside, presented a really interesting paper about the military in Lebanon--how do armed forces get reconstructed after civil wars.  Erica de Bruin (Hamilton) and Risa Brooks (Marquette) provided very helpful and insightful comments.  I learned a lot from the other papers, and we got good feedback as we try to figure out what we discovered.

On the second day, I was part of a roundtable on Canadian Foreign Policy in the 2020s despite, well, not really writing or studying CFP.  I spoke first so I focused on the difficult years ahead--uncertain where the US will go in 2024, a bellicose China, a military distracted and divided over its own personnel problems, and a government that does not really care much about foreign policy.  Andrea Lane (CFC), Justin Massie (UQAM), Edward Akuffo (U of Fraser Valley), Brian Bow (Dalhousie), Elizabeth Smythe (Concordia U of Edmonton), and Kim Nossal (Queen's) gave their far more informed and studied opinions.  We varied between optimism and pessimism, focusing on domestic dynamics (we are kind of screwed with immature parties) and international dynamics (we are kind of screwed by uncertainty).  We got a good crowd and got some good questions.

My third panel was a roundtable honoring Marc Trachtenberg as the International Security Studies Distinguished Scholar of 2021.  I got the role of chair as I chaired the committee that selected him.  I had never met Marc, but I had read his stuff.  It was always interesting and often contrary to the poli sci arguments on the issue.  The panel had Security gurus Monica Duffy Toft (Tufts), and John Mearsheimer (Chicago) and former students Frank Gavin (SAIS), Brendan Green (Cincinnati) and Galen Jackson (Williams).  I have only gone to a few of these celebratory roundtables, but I will try to go to more in the future, as it was funny, moving, and enlightening.  

Today, I participated in the Junior Scholar Symposium.  This is a relatively new initiative, where small groups of junior scholars meet with a senior prof or two and we have an intense conversation about their work.  Often, junior scholars on normal panels can get ignored as people focus their attention on the bigger names.  The JSS is an effort to offset that potential dynamic.  The assignments are sometimes on target and sometimes random.  This year I shared the discussant role with Movindri Reddy of Occidental to talk with a group of younger scholars whose work, alas, has nothing to do with my own.  I tried to provide the best feedback I could.  I was impressed by all of them--Daniel Rodriques of Universidade Autonoma de Lisboa, Saskia Postema and Jan Melissen of Leiden, Dmitry Chernobrov of Sheffield, and Alina Dolea of Bournemouth.  Ok, the last presenter, Alina is working on diaspora so I had something to say about her stuff.  I like doing this JSS stuff as it is great to see what the latest generation is studying and to feed off of their nervous energy.  But a real weakness of this year's ISA is that they made the panels shorter (a good idea in a zoomed conference) but didn't change the number of people on panels.  So, we had far less time to engage, follow up, answer, etc.  And the portal sucked for getting audience involvement. 

To be fair, ISA tried hard.  They created a Slack to provide some community and help, and that kind of worked.  Lots of people didn't know how to use it, most probably didn't sign up, but people did introduce themselves and did get help they needed.  The trivia games and other stuff probably helped some people.  The business meeting I had was not as fun or as tasty as they usually are, but was mostly the same.  I asked my friends on facebook what they did--did they go to more panels than the ones they were on, did they go to receptions--and the answer is not really.  I think one of the early signs I should have noticed is that the Online Media Caucus, a group I helped to start and one that is, well, adept at online stuff, chose not to do a reception this year.  I think they got it--it ain't worth it.  Next year?  Duckies in Nashville, please! 

I am glad ISA 2021 was not cancelled.  I learned much (which is why I got into this business in the first place--my curiosity), I met some new people despite the problematic platform ISA used, and I got to connect for a bit with some friends.  It was better than nothing, which is what we got last year, but wasn't as useful or valuable as past ISAs.  And now back to grading season.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 55: Being Very Taxed

Tis tax season, which is why this post is going up Sunday, not Saturday, as I spent yesterday collecting the info for doing a heap of taxes--two countries plus a random state plus helping Adulting Spew. 

The semester is not quite over yet, but it is close.  Grading season is already here as two students submitted their Masters Research Projects to me this week.  Once I get those read, it will be grading time for my civ-mil class.  I can't complain much as our classes end earlier than those of my friends down south.  Speaking of classes, Carleton is shifting towards in-person in the fall.  We shall see how that develops as it is not clear it will be safe for students to gather even if the profs are vaxxed by then.

The story up here was, of course, the late and inadequate response to the spiking variants.  Doug Ford said dumb stuff about AstraZeneca after the national vaccine authority fucked up the math and got too risk adverse.  So, yeah, Canada is not a paragon of health policy.  We never could be New Zealand or Australia, but, damn, they could have done far better.  On this, Canadian federalism is definitely worse than American federalism.  I don't want to apply Green Lantern Theory to Trudeau, but I do wish he pushed harder and put some of these premiers into tougher spots.  But Ontarians still love Doug Ford so maybe JT was right to dodge that fight.  All I know is that Canadians are going to die unnecessary this spring.   

It has been a year since I got a play station, and I have realized that I should have gotten the stand mixer instead way back then rather than this January.  The totally chocolate chocolate chip cookies worked out nicely and are even better with ice cream.  The Detroit-style pizza last weekend was good but too saucy.  Oh, and the Dutch baby was delightful.  So, yeah, more baking, more eating, more treadmilling, and back to biking to get through this.  

That's all I have for right now as I have to make some progress on the taxes.  We have time since CA is not due until the end of April and US has been pushed to mid-May.  However, I do like to get them done.  Probably next weekend. 

The highlight ahead is the ISA this week.  Won't be the same at all--no Vegas, no hanging out, no meeting new people at civ-mil hangouts in bars, and very little of that camaraderie that energizes me.  Damn.  But my friends are getting vaxxed, and I am still dodging the virus.  

Be well and get outside into the sun, if you can.